Last month we published the Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Framework for Decision Making as part of our effort to inform, and listen to, the people of Scotland. This outlined our principles and approach to managing our way through and out of this crisis to a 'new normal'.
Since then we have continued to see signs of hope, not least in the declining numbers of people requiring intensive care treatment as a result of the virus. This is testament to the sacrifices we have all made in staying at home and to the courageous work of our health and care services.
Despite this progress, each day brings news of more people who have sadly lost their lives to this cruel disease and so our absolute commitment to suppressing the virus remains. We must proceed with caution, and while the time is right to think about what comes next, it is certainly not the time for complacency.
In the Framework for Decision Making we said that we wanted to keep the public up to speed with our thinking, to share as much as we could of that and to involve people in those decisions. This update continues that process.
It provides more background on the "R number" that people will have heard us talk about. This is the reproduction rate of the virus - it estimates how many people are currently catching the virus from each person who has it. It is vital that we keep this number below 1. If we do not, the virus will run out of control again and any relaxation of lockdown conditions will most likely have to be reversed.
By law, we must review our COVID-19 regulations every three weeks. This ensures that they remain proportionate to our need to tackle this public health emergency, and the absolute necessity of suppressing the virus, but also recognises the broader harms to health, the economy and society that are the side-effects of these measures. The final day in the current three-week cycle is this Thursday, 7th May.
At present the weight of evidence across these harms indicates that there is very little room, if any, for changing the restrictions at this time. However, I want to assure you that the restrictions will be in place for no longer than required. We understand their consequences.
It is worth stressing that there are fine margins involved here. Once changes are made we will need to carefully monitor their impacts as even small shifts in the R number could lead to the virus spreading exponentially again.
I also want to assure you that we are using the time that the regulations are in place to do the planning required to ensure that our workplaces, our schools and other public spaces will be safe to return to when the time is right to change our restrictions. That includes planning for possible changes to how businesses, schools and public transport will have to operate, as well as expanding our testing capacity and our capability to undertake Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (TTIS) to ensure that the virus remains suppressed and we can go about our lives safely, as we set out in our publication yesterday.
To share our thinking about how we will carefully and gradually move towards this 'new normal', this document provides illustrative examples of the steps that might form part of the initial changes to the current lockdown restrictions. To be clear, we are not recommending these options at the moment but offer them as examples of what may come next and the kind of preparations that are underway.
We will only make changes to lockdown rules when we believe it is safe to do so, whether that is in reopening schools or businesses or increasing social interaction. This is not just because that is the right thing to do but because we also need to give you confidence that, in following our advice, you and your family will be safe and our public services will be protected.
To help us in that process, we are launching today an online tool that gives people the opportunity to offer their ideas and reflections on how we should move forward. We are listening. Each community of Scotland has been affected, and will recover, in a different way and it is crucial that businesses, unions, councils, public services and community groups are also part of this discussion.
Your views are key because there are careful balances to be struck. Our decisions will, of course, be informed by scientific and medical advice but must also involve judgement about what our country needs. For us to expect people and organisations to comply with the difficult rules that we impose, your views must be taken into account.
We have seen remarkable examples of our society's ingenuity, compassion and kindness. Each of those traits will be vital as we go forward. The people of Scotland's observance, and perseverance, with the lockdown rules is helping us to beat this virus. When we do make changes to lockdown restrictions we will again be asking everyone to make difficult trade-offs and to adjust to a new normal.
It will be vital that we as Government make absolutely clear what we expect of you and why, and we will ask in return for you to continue your hard work.
I know it has not been easy, and will continue to be hard, but if we work together in a spirit of openness, kindness and determination, we will succeed.
First Minister of Scotland